21st Century Presentations powerpoint alternatives

Thinking Beyond PowerPoint

Is PowerPoint Evil?

We've all been there, stuck in a meeting or class, suffering through text-heavy, image-free, poorly planned PowerPoint, trying not to fall asleep while the presenter has their back turned to the audience as they read the text off the screen. Heads nod around the room, not in agreement, but in general drowsiness, as the presentation enters Slide 46.

Don't do this.

One of the problems with PowerPoint is that it encourages the user to put everything into bullets of equal information when that might not be the best way to present it. The go-to combination of text and images on each slide also means that users feel the need to include an image when it might not be needed or add text when a picture or chart might suffice. Still, even with 50 slides, a presentation might only have a fraction of the information included in a written report.

Another problem is that presentations often go long because the PowerPoint creator feels the need to include all of the available information, but because it is broken down into tiny digestible chunks, the presentations grow and grow and grow. This lack of editing is really a lack of confidence in the material, as those who know the material better can often get by with less slides, rather than more.

So much text. So many bullets.
PRESENTATIONS LARGELY STAND OR FALL ON THE QUALITY, RELEVANCE, AND INTEGRITY OF THE CONTENT... AUDIENCE BOREDOM IS USUALLY A CONTENT FAILURE, NOT A DECORATION FAILURE. -- EDWARD TUFTE

Yale statistician and expert on data visualization Edward Tufte has a big problem with PowerPoint, accusing it of simplifying information when it needs to be complex, and complicating data that would be better served by a simpler presentation. On its use in education, he pulls no punches: "Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials." A short screed of his regarding PowerPoint's inherent "evilness" is linked below.

An actual slide from a military PowerPoint...easy to read, no?

WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS POWERPOINT

Perhaps calling it "evil" is a bit over the top, but there are actually consequences to bad PowerPoints, as noted by the US military itself, which relies heavily on the use of PowerPoint, perhaps to a fault. They see it as dampening critical thinking and the perceived complexity of the systems at play in the theater of war...or over-complicating things to the point of absurdity, like the slide listed above.

It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control...Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable. -- Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster

Bulleted lists, the de facto method of using PowerPoint, fail to show the interconnectivity of the factors involved in military tactics and strategy because they present most information as being disconnected and of equal importance. And yet long PowerPoints often can't convey the depth that a well-written paper could. Many people in the military, including senior officers, spend quite a bit of time creating and reviewing the slides, and not paying attention during these presentations can have deadly or injurious consequences.

Engage your audience, though you don't have to go THIS crazy.

Alternatives to PowerPoint

There are plenty of good and bad examples of PowerPoint use, but the central point here is that PowerPoint is not the only way to present information. An explosion in Web 2.0, social media, and user-driven tools online have widened the pedagogical approaches to disseminating information. Newer presentation software and digital media tools allow us to create dynamic content in different molds, forcing us to rethink and restructure the ways in which we transmit information, presenting data and stories in a manner that better suits the material. And, at the very least, these 21st century presentation tools break up the aesthetic monotony of PowerPoint.

Remember: bad content and lazy organization will usually result in a bad and/or lazy presentation, no matter how fancy the software used to present the material.
It's all about finding the right tool for the task.

New Directions in Sliding

New takes on presentation software

The following apps adhere closely to the PowerPoint formula of slides, but add their own twists to the formula with updated aesthetics and creation tools. Many of these tools are browser-based and cloud-enabled, making it easier to access them on a variety of computers and operation systems, while others have mobile apps that allow for creation anywhere (within reason).

Visme

Visme (formerly Presenter), along with Canva, discussed later, is an emerging all-purpose graphic design tool. With its gorgeous data visualizations and wide variety of templates, it exists between an infographic maker and PowerPoint alternative on a continuum. Visme started solely as a presentation creator, but now it offers users the ability to create infographics, banner ads, and more, thankfully utilizing similar tools for all of them.

Haiku Deck

At first glance, Haiku Deck seems like another presentation design tool, but it leaves out a number of crutches and bad habits, namely bullet points and slide transitions. Haiku Deck "cards" err more on the side of the visual than its peers, allowing only little bits of important text. The focus here is on the confidence of the creator/user and the visual aspect of presentations. It brings with it millions of stock photos to back up its visual emphasis. The goal here is to never have an ugly slide, though presenters that need to push out a lot of content might want to look elsewhere.

Emaze

Emaze is cloud-based and made in HTML5, so it works in any browser on any device. Because of this it can be resource-intensive as far as memory goes, but it makes up for it in its simple tools and small learning curve. Its templates and design tools allow users to get up and running, so to speak, in less time than it would take to make a PowerPoint. Experienced designers will find plenty to like as well.

Projeqt

A popular up-and-comer in the digital presentation world, Projeqt is another one of the many alternatives to PowerPoint out there that allows students and creators to make powerful curatorial multimedia digital artifacts. "Projeqts" split the difference between a slideshow and a pinboard and can be created within a browser.

Projeqt is used by educators, government institutions, charities, and NGOs.

Slidebean

Slidebean is a newer PowerPoint alternative that does a lot of the heavy-lifting for you in terms of design and layout of the slides. Slidebean is limited in terms of number of slide layouts and the freedom the user has to manipulate them, but it makes up for this with attractive fonts, color palettes, and layouts. Slidebean is a quality choice for those who would rather concentrate on content and not dither with design.

Slides

Slides (or Slides.com to avoid confusion) is another slick and attractive PowerPoint alternative. It features forking navigation and branching paths and is cloud-based with a number of collaborative tools. Its data visualization is also quite attractive. There are free as well as paid plans.

New tools, such as Projeqt (shown above), make creating presentations more accessible than ever.

Infographics, Images, and Websites

PowerPoint and most presentation software adhere to a slide-after-slide formula, but there is nothing wrong with presenting material live or online with a single image, webpage, or infographic. The following tools can help you organize your thoughts and data into one "single stream" source, which makes it slightly trickier to present live, but easier to share in a variety of other settings. Some have better curatorial features, allowing the creator to bring in media from outside sources. The presentation you're reading right now was made with a good exemplar of this: Adobe Spark Page.

Adobe Spark Page

(formerly Adobe Slate)

Adobe Spark Page is one of the most attractive and simple-to-use website/presentation creators out there. In fact, you're looking at one right now! Obviously I'm biased, but I really do think it's an interesting way to make a quick "single subject" website to disseminate information. Though the themes and layouts are limited, they are almost all attractive, and Adobe gives the creator access to thousands of free photos (it even handles attribution for you). Use the Adobe Spark iOS apps or create presentations on browsers. You need an Adobe ID to log into all Adobe products, but this allows you to sync up your projects within the Adobe Spark and Creative Cloud suites.

Piktochart

One of the more fully-featured infographic creators with a number of sleek free templates that are customizable and offer the user a lot of options, even at the free level. The drag and drop interface has only a slight learning curve, and Piktochart, while specializing in designing infographics, can also be used to create reports, flyers, and presentations.

Infogr.am

Infogr.am offers the same kind of browser-based attractive infographic templates as Piktochart, but it is more concerned with the data visualization side of things. There are fewer free options than Piktochart, but it excels in charts, graphs, and tables, and these graphics can be embedded in other websites. Online publications like the Verge use Infogr.am to display data in their articles.

Canva

Canva is a popular web-based drag-and-drop graphic design tool with a bevy of prefab layouts for you to start your designs with. Canva allows the user to design a whole suite of branding for an organization, business, or classroom, from logos to letterheads to flyers to social media banners. Though there are paid levels for it, the free version still has lots of professional-looking options. There is a good chance that Canva has something to suit your needs.

Adobe Spark Post

(formerly Adobe Post)

Another part of the interconnected (and free) Adobe Spark suite of tools, Adobe Spark features a myriad of templates that you can use as a jumping-off point for your own designs. The color palettes are striking and bold, and it is easy to change almost every aspect of the design. Even with the limited font choices and layout tools, the simple and powerful creation tools allow the user to experiment and usually arrive at a winning design. It even offers surprisingly good suggestions for your work, allowing you to focus on the text and the image choice. Spark Post is geared toward social media, so you can choose template sizes from that, as well as photo backdrops from the thousands of free images in their database (or upload one of your own). It's an easy way to make a powerful, shareable digital flyer of sorts.

Don't be afraid of something just because it's easy.

Animate Your Information

Adding Movement, Creativity, and More

PowerPoints that abuse animations and overactive Prezis often come off as gimmicky, grating, and/or nausea-inducing, in part because the animations are superfluous. However, animations are a great way to deliver content, especially in non-face-to-face situations, because the designer has more control over the pacing, using music and editing to garner emotional responses. Traditional animation still takes a long time, but newer tools have brought simple but effective animation within reach.

Powtoon

Many of my students of all ages have shocked themselves and others by making animations with Powtoon. Almost all animation toolsets have a bit of a learning curve, but once you get past the Inception-like thinking necessary to animate, it does really powerful stuff, even with the free version. Users can make traditional linear animated movies or slide-after-slide presentations. I used to program Flash, and stuff like this took me weeks. Now you can do it in hours, and some of the templates are pretty good, even if many of the animations are locked behind a paywall. If you’re up for a (brief) challenge then you’ll impress yourself with the animations you create with this.

Adobe Spark Video

(formerly Adobe Voice)

I don't want to sound like an Adobe sales representative, but the Adobe Spark suite of tools are some of the best around for novice and expert designers alike. Adobe Spark Video is a powerful animated presentation creator for tablets with simple, straightforward built-in iconography, stylish themes, and voice-over. You can add in Creative Commons photos straight out of the app, as well as images from your own photo library and other Adobe apps. A nice alternative to PowerPoint that allows for narration recording, even right out of the iPad or iPhone. The new browser-based version is even better, and, given the choice between this and PowerPoint, I would choose this every time.

The above video was created in Adobe Spark Video by our own Dr. Eunbae Lee to promote our Innovation Studio makerspace.

Stop Motion Studio

Unlock your inner Ray Harryhausen! One of the simpler (and thus easier-to-use) stop motion animation creators that still packs a punch under the hood, as it can export to 4k and 1080HD. One of its limitations is that it always defaults to 12 fps and the shakiness of mobile device often require stabilization like a tripod...or even a selfie stick (not kidding!). The Pro version is a reasonable $4.99, but the free version is ample enough for K-12 needs and works on Android, iOS, and Windows tablets and phones. I’ve taught kids and adults how to use it, and everyone seems to enjoy it.

Imaengine

Imaengine is a free-to-inexpensive ($0.99 for the paid version with better exporting features) vectorizer that turns photos and other images on your phone or tablet into something resembling cartoons and paintings and even avant-garde abstract art. This conversion of raster and bitmaps (images that break apart when stretched) to vector results in smoothed out files that can be edited in Adobe Illustrator and other programs. Some results can be wild, but there isn’t much out there like it. It also has video that is choppy but has a neat animated effect and can be used to turn real life into animation to be added to one of these other presentation tools here. Many of my students have acted out scenes and "animated them" in place of learning how to do actual animation, which, as you might have guessed, takes time, talent, and resources.

Visual Storytelling

New apps and tools on computers and mobile devices allow you to make mini-documentaries, oral histories, music videos, and more, all without having to crack open a high-powered editing program like Premiere or Final Cut. Why not unleash your inner Ken Burns rather than make a static PowerPoint? Note: some of the tools mentioned above, such as Adobe Spark Video, also make powerful visual storytellers.

Storehouse

One of the many app-based visual storytellers out there that can combine photos and media, straight from a phone or tablet (Android or iOS), rather than having to edit and manipulate clips on a computer. The app is free and pretty slick, though most of the content is housed within the internal social network of the site.

KnowMe

The relatively new "story maker" app KnowMe sits somewhere between Instagram and iMovie, allowing you to take any media on a phone, from photos to music to movies, and mix it together. It also enables easy photo and video shooting a la Vine or Instagram. It's currently only on iOS with an Android version in the works. A fairly quick signup for the app is required.

Shadow Puppet

One of the most education-oriented of the visual storytelling apps out there, Shadow Puppet works in much the same way as others mentioned here. They directly promote themselves as an educational app and have a growing community of teachers using the app in classrooms. It works much in the way as other apps here, allowing the user to add text, music, voiceover, and more. The app is iOS only and free, but the website does feature many lesson plans and Common Core tie-ins that might be helpful for any use of visual storytelling tools.

Nutshell

Nutshell–by Prezi–is a fun iOS-only app that allows the user to make quick, "mini-movies" featuring text and animations. The user takes three photos that are stitched together with a bit of digital wizardry, and I've seen students make some compelling narratives and creative stories even with the app's limitations. Nutshell is free and iOS only.

Remember these?

"Old" Favorites

The following programs have been around for a while now (even Prezi!), at least in technology terms. However, they still might be useful as a PowerPoint alternatives in that they offer different templates, fonts, and colors than the usual. Prezi and Google Presentations also offer cloud-based saves, so they can be accessed from different computers.

Prezi

Prezi was one of the first challengers to PowerPoint's crown, allowing for the development of non-linear presentations that tended to be more visual. The user places objects on its slide-less stage and connects them via paths, allowing for zooming in and out of photos and interesting pairings of words and text. One major drawback: Prezi's signature "swooshing" and "zooming" between content can be gimmicky and even nausea-inducing, especially for Prezis where organization was an afterthought. It remains a powerful alternative to PowerPoint but is not as novel as it once was.

Google Slides

Whereas some of these presentation tools are like "PowerPoint on Steroids," Google's presentation software is really more of PowerPoint on a diet. It's not a looker compared to some of the others here, but it has the same basic structure and guts as PowerPoint, is free, and it stores your slides via the cloud on Google Drive. This means it's a good choice for making quick presentations that can be accessed anywhere. Google Slides remains a solid choice when you need a more traditional PowerPoint-style presentation, and there is more there than meets the eye, as evidenced by the Google Slide "slam" you will see in a bit.

Keynote

You've probably seen Apple's Keynote software, available on Macs and iOS, in use during one of Apple's showy product reveals. For better or worse, Keynote presentations lean toward the smooth, slick minimalism of the "Apple aesthetic," making it a worthy alternate to PowerPoint's sometimes staid designs. The transitions tend to be subtle, and it can export to a variety of formats, but it still follows the typical presentation model. It does cost money unless pre-installed on a Mac, and when it exports to formats like PowerPoint, some of its feel can be lost in the process. However, even after a number of years, its basic templates and options still seem more contemporary than many of its predecessors.

PowerPoint is here to stay

And might not be evil after all

Despite the (over?)heated rhetoric of Edward Tufte and others, PowerPoint remains the dominant presentation program in business, government, and education. Even with the new alternatives highlighted here, PowerPoint doesn't show any signs of losing its dominant position. Like other creative products, PowerPoint adheres to the old axiom of GIGO: Garbage In/Garbage Out. PowerPoint undoubtedly has its weaknesses, but much of the problems we have with its usage are user-created, as we have all (myself included) fallen into a lazy set of practices regarding its use.

But is it art?

PowerPoint as art project?

David Byrne's PowerPoint Art

Abusing the shape tools in PowerPoint.

Probably the most notable defender of PowerPoint is musician and artist David Byrne, the former leader of the Talking Heads, who approached the software ironically, and then began using it as a medium for art creation. Some of his art slides from this work are displayed above.

I have been working with PowerPoint, the ubiquitous presentation software, as an art medium for a number of years. It started off as a joke (this software is a symbol of corporate salesmanship, or lack thereof) but then the work took on a life of its own as I realized I could create pieces that were moving, despite the limitations of the "medium." -- David Byrne

Byrne eventually debated Tufte about the merits of PowerPoint, and his artwork, along with accompanying music, ended up in both a book and a series of gallery shows called Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information or E.E.E.I., for short. The title might be a mouthful, but it is a not-so-subtle (and good-natured) jab at Edward Tufte's own influential book about how we conceptualized data, Envisioning Information. Not only did David Byrne make visual art out of PowerPoint, he may have created the highest concept "diss track" of all time.

Rethinking Traditional Presentations

Google Docs Demo Slam Animation

Byrne's art used the staid PowerPoint framework in many new ways, rethinking the shape tools and how text was displayed, among other things. Earlier I mentioned that Google Slides was a bit traditional, similar to PowerPoint in its adherence to bullets and slides, but that was a bit dishonest of me. Almost any tool, app, or software can be used for creative purposes by challenging yourself and the software to present information in unique and engaging ways. Check out the video below for a powerful reminder that we ourselves remain the biggest limiters of creativity, not the tools themselves.

That astonishing "presentation," which used slides as animations was created by 3 designers, none of whom lived in the same place, using the collaborative tools of Google Slides. Everything you saw was created using only the animations, tables, graphs, shapes, and text built inside of Google Slides. Certainly PowerPoint is capable of delivering a similar experience. This "slam," as they call it is a phenomenal piece of work, riffing on traditional digital presentation tropes with cheerful good nature. Sure, these are professional designers doing this work, but it should serve as a wake-up call that it's less about the software and its affordances and more about how you us them.

Sometimes you just have to change things up.

Changing Up Your Style

Pecha Kucha: 20x20

It's not just the military, business, and teaching that suffer through bad PowerPoints. Even the fancy world of design and architecture is not immune to the long-winded presentation, so Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham Architecture hatched a solution called "Pecha Kucha," after the Japanese word for "chit chat."

PechaKucha 20x20 is a simple presentation format where the presenter shows 20 images, each for 20 seconds. The images advance automatically, and they talk along to the images.

Maybe the problem isn't with PowerPoint itself...or rather maybe the problem is the entire style of the presentation, including how the presentation is constructed AND delivered. Pecha Kucha is not a new presentation software, but rather a new presentation style that aims for simplicity, speed, and personality over getting every bit of information there.

The Pecha Kucha format of delivery has grown in popularity from its humble beginnings as a new view on creating digital presentations. Pecha Kucha nights and conventions are popular events around the world, and the official website features an active community sharing their presentations on all manner of subjects–video games, glassmaking, history, and much, much more. The Pecha Kucha above is about Pecha Kucha itself!

Final Thoughts

What the David Byrne artwork, Google Presentation "slam" animation, and Pecha Kucha tell us, along with the myriad available tools for new presentation styles, is that there is no one way to create or give a presentation. Options abound for all types of data, audiences, and presentation styles. Presentations–even ones made in PowerPoint–don't have to be endless lists of bullets or never-ending slides; even something as simple as changing the graphics or the way you present can have huge results. In the end, it's not so much the fault of the tools as it is all of us falling back on tropes and bad habits. We've all been there: finishing a presentation at the last minute by throwing a bunch of bullets and clipart onto slides willy-nilly, with little care for how the information is organized or structured. Choosing the right software for the data is very important, but so, too, is attenuating the presentation to that learner group, and delivering it in the best manner for the setting. The presentation tools highlighted here are just a superficial survey of the landscape. There is a tool out there right for your design experience, your presentation style, and your content.

Presenters must challenge themselves and their software of choice to be creative and engaging, communicating more with less, with care given to both the data and audience's needs.

The end.

Me, via Imaengine.

This presentation was created by Dr. Lucas John Jensen (me!), an assistant professor of Leadership, Technology, and Human Development at Georgia Southern University. You can contact me at ljensen [at] georgiasouthern [dot] edu with suggestions, corrections, and/or comments. Thanks for making it to the end!

Created By
Lucas Jensen
Appreciate

Credits:

Created with images by geralt - "mark marker hand" • alice_c - "GiardinaKARLSRUHE - Death by Powerpoint" • Army Medicine - "Sleep Icon" • mafflong - "Death by PowerPoint" • madmarv00 - "#PPTK shirts - My Bullet Points are Deadly." • Abode of Chaos - "Borderline Biennial 10 octobre 2009 - P1010764" • PublicDomainPictures - "army blade compact" • waferboard - "Polaroid" • thewikiman - "Prezi Positioning" • tendenci - "Silicon Vikings San Francisco" • junyaogura - "Android Market in Japan" • Tom Coates - "Steve Jobs!" • Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com - "Portrait with PowerPoint, after Pieter Jansz van Asch" • alterna2 - "David Byrne en Barcelona" • Mike Babcock - "Shaving Scott" • PublicDomainPictures - "bubble caucasian thought"

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